Women Play Games? Sexist Gamers Don't Think So... But Women's Magazines Are Even More Dense
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
Flipping through a magazine a couple nights ago I had a revelation, and it's something that I haven't been able to shake since: Why don't women's magazines ever talk about games? When they do, they make it seem like it's only the boyfriends and the husbands picking up the controller. It's bad enough that many game sites are hostile towards the very idea of female gamers -- women's magazines make the problem worse by implying women shouldn't even be interested in games (unless their man is.)
It's old news that the number of male and female gamers is just about even, so why is it that men's magazines regularly add game-related content while women's mags, both online and offline, insist on living in the past? It's an outdated point-of-view that's not only alienating potential readers, but doing a lot of damage to perceptions about women in gaming. Here's what I mean:
To be clear, I'm referring primarily to what you would call "lifestyle" magazines; publications and websites that cover a pretty broad range of subjects of interest to women as opposed to ones that focus exclusively on one or two. Lifestyle magazines for women regularly talk about movies, television shows, books, music, and other major forms of media in little mini-columns peppered between the feature articles, but they almost never mention games. How long did it take many of these same magazines to talk about television shows after they became commonplace? Probably not 30 years.
If you look at men's lifestyle magazines on the other hand, video game content is absolutely abundant -- I found dozens of examples like this great article about Grand Theft Auto IV after only a few seconds searching Esquire's website, and if you search AskMen for "gaming" you'll get nearly 33,000 results, and none of that should surprise anyone. Even Forbes, a business magazine geared towards professionals of both sexes, has game related-content on their site like this article coincidentally written by a woman.
When women's lifestyle magazines and sites do talk about gaming instead of simply acting like games don't exist, they talk about it with all the care and comfort of someone handling a leaky garbage bag. Nine times out of ten (if I'm being generous) they're only talking about games and gaming in relation to men: Get your guy's attention by letting him teach you how to play a game, give him games as a present, turn him on by talking about gaming, no seriously give him games as a present so he'll like you more -- but don't forget that eventually games will get between you and your man so beware! And these are just the online articles. There are plenty of other gems that made it into databases but not onto the web at large. Boring in bed? Try combining oral sex and World of Warcraft. Single? Try looking for a man at a trendy arcade. Want to lose weight? Go over to your boyfriend's house and play his PS3 (but don't do that because you're not going to lose weight playing PS3, that's ridiculous, don't you have a Wii yet? It's 2012.) If you're a little older with a husband and kids there's content for you from magazines like Redbook, who will help you figure out if you should allow your husbands and children to game at all. And good lord there are also so many interviews and articles about Mila Kunis, talking about how omg it's totally weird that she's into gaming and boy stuff eeeeeek!
The most progressive magazine I could find was Seventeen, which didn't have a terribly bountiful or diverse range of game-related content, but what they did have rarely mentioned boyfriends or Mila Kunis. I would have been disappointed if that hadn't been the case honestly, because teen girls love gaming as much as their male counterparts, and this seems to be accepted a little more readily than the fact that my mother likes assassinating people and crashing motorcycles on her tablet, console, and PC alike. You don't just turn 18 and throw your Xbox in the trash; gamer girls grow up into gamer women, and this is not just a recent trend.
I can cite statistics in these articles until I'm blue in the face, but this time there's one in particular that I want to focus on:
Today, adult women represent a greater portion of the game-playing population (30 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (18 percent).
Yes, the key demographic for magazines like Cosmo plays more games than adolescent boys, a market that the gaming industry bends over backwards to cater to. You can quibble and say "Well they're probably all just playing Angry Birds on their phones", but the fact remains that they are buying and playing games, and these magazines (who are struggling to maintain their relevancy as they compete with bloggers and Youtube gurus and fresh content on-tap 24/7) are completely ignoring it. That is utterly insane. Worse than ignoring it, they're perpetuating pathetically retro ideas about gender and gaming that aren't just alienating readers but harming the perception of women who game at large. It's certainly not doing much to encourage women to join the gaming industry, either. Our own magazines are pushing this tired bullshit, and still we're shocked and indignant when a game developer calls an easier skill tree in their game "girlfriend mode". He could practically be plagiarising a joke from of a back-issue of Cosmo.
Contrary to the faux-cover image I made for this post, I'm not asking for cover stories -- that's what gaming-specific magazines are for -- but there is no reason for games to not be given the exact same care and attention that books, music, tv shows, movies and similar media receive. Cater to your audience but don't talk down to them; we're well beyond playing the ultra-crappy pink-boxed "games 4 grrlz" these days: Profile wildly popular titles like The Sims 3, talk about awe-inspiring experiences like Journey (whose soundtrack is up for a Grammy), share moving stories like those in The Walking Dead and Papo & Yo, play it safe with mobile games like Lili that deliver console-quality gaming to your phone or tablet (with an adorable female grad-student protagonist as a bonus), or take risks and talk about female heroes that kick ass like Mass Effect's Shepard. There are so many options, and none of them ever have to be qualified with the word "boyfriend".Tweet
Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.